Bujumbura, Burundi Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Bujumbura, Burundi

Bujumbura, Burundi 11/12/17

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes, this was my first.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, DC, USA. Travel to post from Washington varies depending on the route. U.S. staff generally take the Brussels Airlines flight from Dulles, connecting with one stop in Brussels to Bujumbura on Sundays. There are other routings through Amsterdam and Nairobi, as well as thorough Addis Ababa, with daily flights.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Approximately 1 year.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Housing with the U.S. embassy is generally nice. Homes are large (~1500+ sq ft, I would estimate), with at least three bedrooms, and two bathrooms each. Homes are stand-alone (no apartments) and are all surrounded by privacy walls. Homes are staffed 24/7 by local guards for security. Commute time to the U.S. embassy is no more than 15 minutes in the busiest of traffic. Occasionally the roads are closed for VIP movement or protests, which can delay travel an additional 5 to 50 minutes.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Local produce is of good quality and available near year-round. Some items are more difficult to find than others, depending on the growing season. There is an expat-focused grocery store, Au Bon Prix, which carries fresh fruit and vegetables, along with a selection of imported shelf-stable staples. Mutoyi, a local cooperative, produces high quality dairy products (milk, butter, cheese) at reasonable prices. They also sell beef and chicken. Boucherie Nouvelle is a local butcher in the center of town that butchers its own beef, pork and chicken. Prices are affordable and vary based on availability. Fresh breads are baked daily at Le Café Gourmand and are of a very high quality. Fresh fish is available at many different places at very affordable prices. Much of it comes from Lake Tanganyika or one of the other Great Lakes in the region.



Additionally, there is a diplomatic duty-free shop that imports various household items. Limes, mangos, avocado are plentiful, cheap and of good quality when in season. The local brewery brews and distributes Coca-cola, Sprite, Schweppes, Heineken, Amstel and Primus, which are often the same price (or cheaper) than water. As you would expect, locally produced items are much cheaper than those you would find in the U.S., while imported items (usually from Tanzania, Rwanda or Dubai) are significantly more expensive.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Various oils, vinegars, additional cleaning supplies (liquids).

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There are many great restaurants available in Bujumbura. Local food generally consists of brochettes of some type (meat on a stick). Kanowe service delicious local food and fish. Tandoor and Taj Mahal are the two Indian restaurants and serve food of generally good quality. Petit Basam serves various local foods in a beach-front, kid-friendly setting. La Terasse is a restaurant atop a hotel, serving delicious hamburgers and local specials with a view of the Lake. Hotel Ubuntu and, just down the street, Pasta Comedia, serve delicious pizza. Amahoro Cafe serves Tex-Mex-style food in an open air setting. There are no food delivery services, per sé, though anything can be takeaway if you want it to be. At the U.S. Embassy, the Community Liaison Office organizes food delivery occasionally for lunch.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants are everywhere, occasionally roaches. The U.S. embassy facilities team is very responsive, but there's only so much one can do...

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

U.S. Embassy officers can access the diplomatic pouch for inbound and outbound mail. Delivery from Washington, DC to post takes from 1 to 3 weeks. Outbound delivery takes approximately 1 week. DHL, FedEx and UPS all have local offices in Bujumbura and offer delivery services. I have no experience with the local mail service. It is a part of EMS.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Household help quality and rates very greatly. Most expats in the U.S. embassy community employ household help for washing clothes, dusting and washing kitchen dishes. Pricing seems to range from 120.000 BF to 250.000 BF for help 3 times per week. Additionally, a number of people employ gardeners to cut the grass, trim plants and occasionally manage a small vegetable garden. Rates seem to be 100.000 BF to 175.000 BF per month for help 3-5 times per week.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There is a well-known gym in Bujumbura (Fitness Factory) that has well-equipped facilities, as well as classes daily. I'm not sure of pricing. The U.S. embassy has a small, but adequate and well-maintained gym available for staff use.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards are accepted at some hotels and the Diplomatic Duty Free store. ATMs are very common, but are often not functioning for international cards. In my experience they are safe to use, however it is not recommended.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

Basic Kirundi is nice, however I really suggest a working understanding of French. It really helps when shopping.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes, however there are often sidewalks in the major roads.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

All local buses, trams, trains and taxis are off-limited for U.S. embassy staff.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

You can get by with near any vehicle. I would suggest a Toyota, as parts are more readily available (there is a licensed Toyota dealer in the city). I recommend a 4x4, however all vehicles can generally get around in the city. Anything you need can be found on the economy in general, though I brought tires, filters and fluids from the U.S. to ensure quality.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

High-speed? No. Is home Internet access available? Yes. Price varies, but customers should expect to pay approximately $100 US per month for 1Mbps of service. Two main providers of home Internet in town are SpiderNet and CBINet. Some people use the local mobile phone provider, Lumitel for their home Internet (4G). Streaming (with a home-use VPN provider) is possible - I am watching Netflix in HD, as I write this, with no buffering - however service can be spotty. Service is delivered to the home via WiMAX towers, so weather can greatly affect the quality of the signal.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Go local. Lumitel is the most popular and cheapest. All services are generally pre-paid. Lumitel provides unlimited 4G LTE service for 5.000 BF per month, plus a per minute charge for calls and a per SMS fee. EconetLEO offers 4G LTE service, as well. SMART provides 3G service. I'm not familiar with pricing. There is only one roaming partner in Burundi for U.S. carriers and the pricing is exorbitant. I would not recommend using your home-country plan.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

There are veterinarians, but quality can vary from what I've heard. I cannot comment personally.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Dress at the U.S. embassy is generally business casual, except for specific positions. Formal dress is required for some events.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Check with your appropriate security office. There are security concerns, though I'm more concerned about getting hit by a tuk-tuk while driving to work.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Burundi is high-risk for malaria. Local medical care is attentive but not generally high quality. The U.S. embassy has a well-equipped health unit, however anything severe is medically evacuated after diagnosis.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air quality is moderate. The dry season results in dust and dirt being suspended in the air. Locals often burn lawn waste and trash on the side of the road, which can cause extreme localized air quality issues.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Plan ahead.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Bujumbura can be isolating at times, especially if you don't speak French in a working capacity.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Burundi has rainy and dry seasons. It's generally rather warm (80F) year round.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Moderate. Community morale seems generally high - if you're here, you want(ed) to be here.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

There is always a dinner, party or get-together of some sort going on. A large group plays volleyball every sunday on the beach.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I'm not quite sure - I would imagine it would be OK.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Yes. Google this one.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

There are great trips to be had in Burundi. The beaches of Blue Bay Resort are lovely. A short trip and tour of the main tea plantation and factory was impressive. Boating on the lake on the weekend. Coffee tasting (Burundi's primary export is coffee).

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Bujumbura is very community driven. Keep your eyes open and be social. You will have a good time.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

There are plenty of items to buy, but they are of varying quality. There are two woodworkers in town which produce absolutely amazing carvings.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

Bujumbura is affordable, generally safe (I feel).

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I wish I had known to learn basic French before arriving.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

I would.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Mosquito spray. Patience.

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Bujumbura, Burundi 08/20/15

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

Washington, DC. About 22 hours to post, connections in Brussels, Amsterdam/Nairobi, or Addis.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Long enough.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government employment.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Stand-alone houses, 8 minutes to the embassy.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Imported items are expensive. Produce is cheap and very good.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Liquids -- dish soap, laundry soap, olive oil, good wine, nail polish and cosmetics.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Good Indian, Chinese, and Italian. $12-15 for dinner and a beer.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants!

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Diplomatic pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Available at about $95-125 per month for a cook/housekeeper. More for nannies, less for gardeners.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

There are a couple of gyms in town. Most Americans use the gym at the embassy.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Don't use them. Only cash.

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5. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French helps in town.

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6. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. It would be impossible.

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Affordable, yes. Safe, no.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

SUV with some clearance. There are a lot of RAV4s and Land Cruisers on the road here.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Internet is available, but not high speed. $80 a month, and you can pay at the embassy.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Bring an unlocked phone or buy something cheap on the local economy. Minutes are cheap here.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No quarantine required. Vet care is limited. Not sure if the Belgian vet is coming back. Find a friend to dog-sit or cat-sit for you.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

Not really.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Casual in public, business or business casual at work.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Wrong place, wrong time kind of threats. Americans are not specifically targeted.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Poor medical care --- just hope you don't get sick or injured. Malaria and parasites are concerns.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Good, even though the locals like to burn things.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

80-90 year 'round. It can get humid, especially during the rainy seasons.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

No personal experience. People generally use the Belgian or the French school.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Really small while on departure. Morale is at an all-time low. Horrible work-life balance, and people are just frustrated with the situation.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

BBQs at friends' houses, dining out, going to the beach.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It is good for families and couples. Horrible for singles.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Probably not.

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5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Ethnic tensions flare every now and again between Hutus and Tutsis.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Seeing hippos.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

None come to mind.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Baskets, wood carvings, fabrics.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

It is a beautiful country with lovely people and great weather. Saving money is easy here because there is nothing to spend it on besides travel out of this place.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I had a good idea of what I was getting into and what may happen during the elections.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

No. I like Burundians, but I don't care for working at the embassy.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes and hope for an easy, relaxing tour at a small, sleepy post.

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4. But don't forget your:

Positive attitude and resilience.

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Bujumbura, Burundi 08/08/09

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

I have previously lived in Brussels, Belgium; Matsusaka, Japan; Minsk, Belarus; and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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2. How long have you lived here?

I have been here since the beginning of May 2009.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

I recommend the Brussels Airlines flight since you therefore will not risk luggage theft in Nairobi. Plus it is the shortest of the three options (Brussels, Addis, or Nairobi).

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

U.S. Government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Embassy housing are all full houses with yards. Size of house and yard, as well as view (of the lake or mountains) varies considerably.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

It is more expensive than one would think, particularly for decent cuts of meat. I do not know exact numbers though.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

My toiletries - if you have sensitive skin or are attached to certain products, there are very few options here.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

There is NO fast food here. Most trips to restaurants will take at least 1 1/2 hours of your time. You can, however, call restaurants (any!) for take-away and then just go and pick it up in 30 minutes or so.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Mosquitoes (with malaria) are prevalent in Bujumbura as well as up country. It's much worse in the dry season than the rainy season (the rains are heavy, so water is moving and not good for mosquito hatching), so bring your bug spray.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

Diplomatic pouch.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Definitely available - we pay about $150/mo for a cook/housekeeper who works Mon - Fri and prepares lunch for us. He works 7 - 8 hours a day. We'll be increasing his pay this month to $200 because inflation is really hurting Burundians these days.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

I think so, but I do not know.

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4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Not possible.

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5. What English-language religious services are available locally?

There is one English service available - it's actually a mix of French, English, and Kirundi. It is Protestant. I think there is an English Catholic service too, but I am not sure.

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6. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

There are no reliable English language newspapers specific to Burundi. TV is DSTV from South Africa.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

MUST have at least rudimentary French.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

MANY!

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Transportation:

1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

Safe.... depends on your French or Kirundi and ability to think on your feet as well as how important seatbelts and good driving techniques are to you. They are affordable.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

SUV with high clearance and the ability to handle rugged roads. Toyota is great for these parts of Africa because it is serviced throughout the area.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, at about $100/ mos. It's fairly reliable, but I hear it depends on where you live and what kind of reception you get.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

Must have.

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Pets:

1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

No.

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2. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

There are a couple vets who can provide rabies vaccinations and can try to help in an emergency. Emphasis on "try." They do not have the training or resources necessary to save an animal if things get bad. We brought everything we could think of for emergency care for our dog.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

NO.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business to business casual, but summer-style since it is warm here. Open toe shoes for women are absolutely fine. No one wears panty hose. :)

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

The air pollution index is good during the rainy season and moderate to unhealthy during the dry season. People burn everything during the dry season and so the dust and detritus in the air is irritating to eyes, throats, and nose. The water should not be drunk straight, but is not nearly as bad as some other African countries. Same with the streets and paths -- not necessarily clean and tidy, but not bad at all, really.

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2. What immunizations are required each year?

Check CDC website.

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3. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

Many, but not at all bad during daylight in cities. It's more a problem while traveling between cities or at night. Burundi is just getting out of a 13 year civil war. There are many small arms, light weapons out among the people. A rise in armed theft is expected, especially up-country, as economic problems continue to lead people to seek other "options" of making some income.

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4. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

There is no quality emergency care available at western standards. Your best bet is to medevac to South Africa or Kenya.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

It is warm here, but not nearly as humid as I had feared. The rainy season is cooler than the dry season. In the dry season it averages 85 degrees during the day.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I do not have children, but as far as I know there are no Int'l Schools in English here.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

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2. Morale among expats:

HIGH. :)

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

It's in homes and at beach restaurants. There are a few clubs, but that's all

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Yes, more for singles and couples and families with very young children than for families with older children, I would guess.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not against expats. Within Burundian society, there are serious gender prejudices (against women).

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Anything with the lake - swim, sail, kite-board, kayak. Hang out on the beach or at any of the beach clubs. Go to restaurants (they are places to hang out).

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Baskets? Clothing?

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9. Can you save money?

Yes.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes.

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes!

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunblock and bug repellent. And books!

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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Bujumbura, Burundi 10/30/08

Background:

1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

Yes.

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2. How long have you lived here?

4 months.

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3. Travel time and best routes to this city from Europe or the US:

There are direct flights from Brussels twice a week that take about 8 hours. Flights from the rest of Europe are through Nairobi or Addis Ababa where there can be a long layover -- it can take up to 24 hours to get to your destination. It takes at least 24 hours to travel between Bujumbura and the U.S.

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4. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Spouse of a U.S. government employee.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Expat houses are large and spacious with gardens and/or pools. Many have mango and avocado trees in the yard. Most houses are located on the mountainside above town and have a view of the lake or of the Congo mountains. The city is small so commute times average 5 to 10 minutes, depending on traffic.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Local fruits, vegetables, and meats are inexpensive, as well as locally bottled beer (Primus and Amstel), juice (pineapple and passionfruit), and soda (Coke, Fanta, Schwepps tonic and soda water). Almost everything else is imported (mainly from Europe, China, Saudi Arabia, and South Africa) and is expensive, up to double what you’d pay in the US. Wine costs about the same as hard alcohol. Dairy is expensive and fresh milk is almost nonexistent. Stocks of everything are unreliable, if you see something you want, buy it, because it could be weeks before it shows up in the store again, even the local items.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Cleaning supplies, more “favorite” foods, more first-aid items—Neosporin, hydrocortisone, pain relievers, more mosquito-repelling products.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

“Fast food” does not exist here. What’s considered “fast” for lunch may still take 60 to 90 minutes. There are many good restaurants though, mainly Indian and European. Cost varies, but is normally low to reasonable. Service is always slow, even in an otherwise empty restaurant.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Widely available for US$80 to $120 a month, depending on the services you want.

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3. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

This is a cash-only place.

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4. What English-language religious services are available locally?

Catholicism makes up the majority of the religious population here but there is also a Protestant church, a Greek Orthodox church, and a Muslim mosque. To my knowledge, there are no services in English but there may be some in French.

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5. English-language newspapers and TV available? Cost?

English-language print media is sporadically available at some hotels and grocery stores. The satellite TV company is from South Africa and much of its programming is in English (mostly British, with a handful of American shows). There’s no English-language local media.

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6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

French is a necessity and locals will appreciate if you know a little Kirundi. There’s very little English spoken here.

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7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

This is not a good place for physical disabilities. There are no wheelchair ramps. The hospitals don’t even have elevators—stretchers are dragged up the stairs.

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Transportation:

1. Do you drive on the right hand side of the road or the left?

Driving is technically on the right side, but in reality it’s done where ever there’s an open space. There’s a mix of left-hand and right-hand drive cars on the road but I’ve heard a new law is banning the importation of right-hand drive cars.

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2. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

They probably are affordable, but they are not safe.

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3. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

A high-clearance, 4WD vehicle is best. All car parts are expensive so bring whatever you can with you.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

It’s available but expensive and unreliable. It’s approximately $75/month and the server goes down several times a week. “High speed” is relative—you can Skype and upload photos, but it may take several hours to download a video from itunes.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

They are available here and lots of people have them. Service is terrible though.

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3. What is the best way to make phone calls back home?

Phone cards or Skype if you have internet access.

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Pets:

1. Quality pet care available (vets & kennels)?

Ship your own pet food and kitty litter. Animals need a rabies vaccination to enter the country. There are vets in town, at least one that is Belgian who will do an EU health certificate for when you leave the country. If you go on vacation and leave your pet behind, have your housekeeper or a friend come by to take care of it.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

No. Preference is given to local hires and French is a necessity for working here. Wages are generally not as high as “Western” wages.

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2. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Business casual and conservative. There are no dress codes for women, but you’ll see many women with skirts to their knees or longer (except when exercising). Flats are recommended rather than heels and you see many women wearing flip-flops for walking outside and changing to nicer shoes in the office. Outside of work, shorts, tshirts, and flip-flops or sneakers are the norm.

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Health & Safety:

1. Pollution index (Good, Moderate, Unhealthy, or Very Unhealthy)?

Mostly good, a little smoky and hazy in the dry season.

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2. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

There’s political instability and rebel groups are becoming active ahead of 2010 elections. You sometimes hear gunshots or grenade attacks from the “bad” parts of town. There are often roadblocks in the mountains outside the city.

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3. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

You must have a yellow fever vaccination to enter the country. Other concerns include malaria, cholera, AIDS, food-borne illnesses, infections from bacteria in the lake, allergies from the smoke in the dry season. Medical care is frightening. The doctors sincerely work hard, but it’s quite substandard compared to the U.S.

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4. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

There are two dry season and two rainy seasons. During the rainy seasons, there are generally showers for an hour or two each day, with sun the rest of the day. The temperature is moderate, generally in the 80s during the day and 60s at night, year round. Being close to the equator, the sun is very strong. Also, there’s almost exactly 12 hours of daytime and nighttime every day, year round.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

I do not have children but I’ve toured 3 of the schools used by expats here: an English Christian school, the Belgian school, and a Montessori school. The English school is the only one in the city that teaches in all English, the others are in French. They seem great for younger children but many people question the quality of education beyond primary school. The Belgian seems to be the best for secondary education, but it’s all in French.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

Schools may work with special needs kids on an individual case, but no school has a specific program in place.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Nannies are available and quite inexpensive. The Montessori and Belgian schools accept children as young as 18 months for nursery/preschool programs.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Small, but friendly. The UN is here as well as several NGOs.

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2. Morale among expats:

Surprisingly high. People gather for drinks and parties on a regular basis.

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3. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

Many expats have house parties. There are many restaurants that are eager to cater to large groups, or the chef will come to your house to prepare the meal. Restaurants have lake views and/or outdoor garden seating. There are a few bars with live music.

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4. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

It’s probably better for singles and couples without children. There are a lot of younger Americans and Europeans working for NGOs so there’s a pretty good “grown up” scene.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

Not really. There’s the Burundian ethnic conflict, but expats are fine. In general Burundians are friendly and nonjudgemental.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Lake-front bars and restaurants for watching hippos at sunset. There’s a beach club. Lots of good restaurants. A small natural history museum with crocodiles. A nature preserve with hippos and crocodiles. Many running and walking clubs. Most weekends there will be at least one house party—home entertainment is the most popular here. There’s one movie theater that shows somewhat recent American movies dubbed in French.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

There are few crafts here, but there’s some locally made furniture and other woodworking items. There are baskets and some fabrics and beading.

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9. Can you save money?

If you never leave the city and only eat local foods, then yes. Flights out of Bujumbura are expensive as are imported items.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes!!

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2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes.

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3. But don't forget your:

Sunblock, raincoat (you’ll need both in the same day!), sense of adventure, sense of humor, patience.

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4. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

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6. Recommended movies/DVDs related to this city:

The National Geographic special “Capturing the Killer Croc”. It’s about the world’s largest Nile crocodile, which lives in the river delta just outside Bujumbura. It’s available on DVD and on YouTube.

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7. Do you have any other comments?

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